5 Things I Learned by Publishing a Weekly Newsletter

On October 25 of last year, I sent out the first issue of DistributedBytes — a weekly newsletter in which I explore how content creators are adapting to the evolving distributed media landscape. There were two key reasons that I started the newsletter: with my background in digital content distribution, I was fascinated by the myriad of emerging platforms that publishers can distribute to (as outlined in my post, “If Content is King, Platforms are Queen and They Wear the Pants”), and I was looking for a writing project that would showcase my knowledge of media and distribution. Hence, DistributedBytes was born.

As I embark on publishing my 20th issue, I’ve looked back over the past four months and assessed what I’ve learned. Overall, the experience has been positive — publishing the newsletter has opened doors to meeting new people as well as reconnecting with former colleagues and associates; it has served as a handy topic to break the ice at networking events; it has been a factor in my qualifying to attend some media-related, invite-only conferences (and even landed me a few “founders” passes).

But producing a weekly newsletter has also been a lot of work. An issue of DistributedBytes consists of links to three to five articles, which I curate from about two dozen sources. I then write a summary for each, which provides some analysis and perhaps ties together a couple of different articles to illustrate a theme or a trend. I try to infuse some humor and use headings ranging from silly to clever in an attempt to make the reading interesting and entertaining. Each edition runs about 1,000 words. So, I spend a lot of time reading about content distribution, saving the articles that I think are contenders, and then I review/make the final selection at the end of the week. I then start formulating my analysis and drafting the copy. Once I have a draft, I make edits, format the content, QA the email on desktop and mobile, and update my list to add any new subscribers I may have received that week.

I also perform a range of activities to promote the newsletter. There are scores of articles about content distribution that are interesting but don’t make the final cut — those I publish on @DistBytes on Twitter. I post an average of four tweets per day and use an automated system to schedule them in advance. I also distribute the newsletter on LinkedIn on Tuesdays, two days after the issue has been delivered to subscribers. I promote the LinkedIn versions across my social media accounts as well as post regular pitches inviting people to subscribe.

As one person commented to me about the effort, “It takes discipline.” It most certainly does.

So here are the top five things I learned from publishing a weekly newsletter, in hopes that what I’ve experienced may help you in determining if you’d like to start one yourself:

#1 — Your friends and associates will help you: Many people, from close friends to casual acquaintances, will share your postings on social media to help you get the word out about your work. It’s been touching and uplifting to see people share my efforts with no prompting whatsoever. It makes me grateful for the people I know and compels me to do more to help people in my network.

#2 — You will be surprised at who subscribes: While at first I thought my audience was mid- to senior level executives in digital media, I’ve had many people from other areas of my life voluntarily sign up — namely music associates (for those who don’t know me, I’m a vocalist and bass player and actively play in bands such as my Rolling Stones tribute, Chick Jagger). From the looks of it, interest in the distributed media landscape is not limited to those in the industry. You may think that you’ll attract a certain type of subscriber but you don’t know until you start building your list.

#3 —You’ve got to be committed: My newsletter has consistently gone out at 6am ET on Sunday mornings (with the exception of a few auto-scheduling snafus — whoops!). By the time I hit the sack Saturday night, the next issue has to be written, edited, tested, and ready to roll. Period.

#4 —Content marketing works: Aside from personally inviting people to sign up, my number one source of subscribers has come from blog posts that I’ve published on related topics. I typically include a pitch to subscribe at the end of any article that I write. It’s a rewarding feeling to see a new email address come through from someone you’ve never met and who is interested in what you have to say.

#5 — People will be impressed: I’ve gotten a lot of compliments and accolades for publishing the newsletter. People regularly ask what prompted me to start it, how and why I chose the topic area that I write about, and why I didn’t just start a blog rather than a newsletter. The answer to that last question is interesting given that DistributedBytes is about how publishers are distributing content. By exclusively publishing a blog, I’d be requiring that people visit a page or a website to read the content. Today, publishers need to provide content to their audience WHERE THEY ARE. To that end, email is experiencing a resurgence (just ask legendary entrepreneur/investor Jason Calacanis who recently transitioned his news aggregation app to an email-based product) and is a key means of content creators getting their works into the hands, so to speak, of their audience. Few other vehicles allow you to get your name in front of people, by their invitation, on a regular basis. (I do publish an archive of DistributedBytes which helps subscribers to understand what they will receive.) The bottom line is that delivering content that resonates with people on an ongoing, consistent basis boosts your visibility and credibility.

So if you’re considering starting a newsletter, I highly recommend it. It fosters relationship building with your professional network, serves as a marketing vehicle for yourself, and allows you to build up a catalog of writing that could potentially be impressive to a future boss or client. Just make sure you account for the time it will take to produce and promote it, and that you’re onboard for the long haul. Once your audience is used to hearing from you at a certain time, you’re on the hook to continue delivering. Otherwise you risk letting down your subscribers and tarnishing your growing reputation as a professional, reliable source of information.

It would be wrong to end this post without extending an invitation for you to subscribe to DistributedBytes. I hope that you do, and that you find the content helpful in keeping up with who is doing what, on what platforms, in the world of media. Please join me on the journey by signing up at www.distributedbytes.com.

Good luck, and best wishes for success with your own newsletter!